In Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle, the author describes the life of workers in the Chicago working class neighborhood Back of the Yards who struggle with the developments of the second industrial revolution. Referencing Sinclair’s work, as well as the fiber-optic cables that run the planetary, computational infrastructure of capital, in its title, this research project explores the impact of digital conditions on the lived reality of labor through artistic practice. It takes the artist/researcher’s personal experience of working as a package handler for a major international shipping company as point of departure to contribute to current discussions on the future of work. The shipping warehouse serves as a sample site, a heterotopia, that reveals conditions of digitally enhanced, manual labor today.
The social and political relations, as well as the technological infrastructure of the warehouse, are deconstructed, reenacted, and extrapolated through the devices of a conceptual art practice that is situated in the fields of (new) media art and user experience design. In the process, methodical approaches from both of these fields are merged to prototype alternative visions of the future of work. The research proposes the perspective of the artist-as-worker and asks how a situatedness of the researcher in both class antagonisms and capitalist infrastructure space can be put into action in artistic research practice.
The findings of the research will be theoretically positioned in the current discourse on (post-)capitalist approaches to technology within the disciplines of media theory and political philosophy. At the same time, the artistic outcomes seek to extend the project’s reach beyond both academia and art through means of expression connecting to pop- and subcultural phenomena. This includes interactive media environments, experimental electronic music, as well as science fiction narrative.
In the combined effort of practice and theory, the project ultimately aims to formulate a particular, relatable, and empathetic perspective on the computational condition of work from which more just and emancipatory futures of work can be imagined, articulated, and eventually brought into being. These potential futures strive to account for both the technological affordances of digital technologies as well as the lived reality and immediate needs of workers.
Henrik Nieratschker (1990, DE) studied Digital Media and Fine Arts at the University of Arts Bremen and Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art in London.
Situated between art and design, his practice amalgamates research activities, narratives and fictions, and modes of prototyping, to negotiate sociopolitical and cultural tendencies through the lens of digital and emerging technologies. Nieratschker’s artistic output ranges from objects, images, and video to software and hardware, which come together in physical-visual, multimedia installations.
Nieratschker’s work has been awarded and exhibited internationally, including a Core77 Design Award; and exhibitions at Victoria & Albert Museum and London Design Festival, London, UK; Science Gallery, Dublin, IE; and 3331 Arts Chiyoda, Tokyo, JP. He has worked as a lecturer and researcher at the Kyoto Institute of Technology and the University of Arts Bremen, where he currently holds a fellowship.
Nieratschker is cofounder of collective Research and Waves, exploring modes of research and collaboration across the boundaries of art, curating, and cultural organizing.
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